• Arts
  • July 9, 2006
  • 6 minutes read

Protest Erupts In Egypt Over A Gay Movie

Some of Egypt’s lawmakers are taking to the floor of the people’s assembly this week to protest against a new film that might be called the Arab world’s “Brokeback Mountain” for its depiction of a gay romance.
The movie, “The Yacoubian Building,” which was shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York this spring, breaks cultural ground here by dwelling on a homosexual affair between the editor of a French-language newspaper and a police officer. But the film, which follows the lives of Cairenes in a downtown apartment building, goes further than just alluding to consensual gay sex.
In one scene, the son of the building’s doorman is stripped and sodomized in a police station following a crackdown at Cairo University. The scene echoes the recent real-life case of Mohammed el-Sharkawi, a protester who in May accused police of violating him with a rolled-up piece of cardboard.
When Mustafa Bakri, a member of parliament who is alleged to have profited from Saddam Hussein’s oil-for-food program, saw “The Yacoubian Building,” he told parliament he was shocked. He soon began rounding up fellow legislators to press for Egypt’s censors to remove the scenes in the movie alluding to sodomy and homosexual romance.
“As a citizen I felt hurt when I watched it. I respect freedom of _expression and creativity, but this is neither,” Mr. Bakri told the BBC. He also claimed that some 117 members of parliament supported his campaign to snip offensive scenes from the movie, which opened to packed houses at the Cairo Opera House last month. The first night’s audience included Egyptian government ministers.
The spokesman for the 88 Muslim Brother parliamentarians in the people’s assembly, Hamdi Hassan, said yesterday that he remembered Mr. Bakri coming to the floor of the legislature in a rage.
“Mustafa Bakri saw it and he was enraged and came to the people’s assembly saying one-third of the movie is about perversion,” Mr. Hassan said. “This concern of perversion is unjustified. These scenes are rejected by religion and the values of the Egyptian society, even if the society suffers from these problems.”
Mr. Hassan said his fellow Muslim Brotherhood legislators would not make cutting the homosexual scenes in the movie a legislative priority. “We are in a critical time where we are with the practicing of all freedoms of _expression. We are suffering from repression in a closed society, and calling for omission or banning would be a road to confusion,” he said.
However, the chief of the Muslim Brotherhood politburo, Mohammed Habib, said yesterday that the movie, which he has not seen, would be better if it did not include the homosexual scenes.
“The scenes related to perversion and almost endorsing it in the movie have torn down a big part of the movie’s quality,” he said. “We wish that those scenes would have been omitted, especially since this group does not represent the Egyptian society. In addition to that, these scenes are in contradiction with the Egyptian values, which we are very careful to protect. If the movie is 80% or 90% good, would the omission of the graphic scenes do harm to the drama? I don’t think so.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s stance is in sharp contrast to those of other Islamist parties that have come to power in the Middle East recently. In Lebanon in 2002, censors raided the Beirut Virgin Megastore for, among other things, Frank Sinatra discs and Elizabeth Taylor DVDs, at the behest of Hezbollah. In Iran, a state where the Shiite clergy controls the military and can veto the parliament, censors have shut down most independent filmmakers.
Besides the depiction of gay romance, “The Yacoubian Building” also offers a caustic criticism of the Mubarak regime. The character that is sodomized in the police station ends up joining an Islamist terrorist group, suggesting that state repression is a key to the political violence that has killed Egyptian tourists in the Sinai in the last four years.
The movie is based on the book of the same title by Alaa Al Aswany. When it was released in 2002, it became the best-selling book after the Koran in the Arab world.

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The Yacoubian Building
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International Herald Tribune – France